King's Bounty 2 preview: A detailed fantasy RPG with deep lore and strategic turn-based combat shows promise

Kings Bounty 2 Preview
Kings Bounty 2 Preview (Image credit: 1C Entertainment)

The King's Bounty series has had an interesting run. The original turn-based RPG game, released in 1990, is considered the kicking off point for the Heroes of Might and Magic games that dominated the mid-1990s. 1C Company then bought the rights to the game and applied them to 2008's King's Bounty: The Legend, another turn-based RPG. The popularity of the game spawned four expansions, the last one in 2014. Then, in 2019, a sequel called King's Bounty 2 was announced with an expected Aug. 24, 2021, release date.

The sequel is being developed by 1C Entertainment, part of the 1C Company umbrella. It's an incredibly prolific publisher and developer, and you can thank the team for PC series classics like IL-2 Sturmovik and Men of War. I was lucky enough to get into an advance beta test to preview the game's development and to give my impressions about what the game is going to be like when it releases next month on PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch.

A fresh face in the world of Antara

I'm a complete newcomer to the world of Antara and, more specifically, the continent of Nostria where the story of King's Bounty 2 unfolds. Nostria, once the political stronghold of the entire world of Antara, is fractured and descending into chaos. Individual counties are attempting to break free of the Monarchy's rule, once-loyal tradespeople are at each other's throats, and dark creatures both human and not lie in wait along the roads that unite villages and cities.

Nostria is crumbling. In classic RPG fashion it's up to the lowly prisoner to save the world.

As someone coming into the game without any universal foreknowledge, it's a lot to take in. And that's a good thing; you never want an epic fantasy RPG to seem void of content. Most people who pick up the game should be in the same boat as I am, since King's Bounty 2 involves a completely new story, new characters, and new factions.

The same unfamiliarity with the broad fantasy world can't be said for the three main playable characters. Each character has a short backstory that helps explain their level of talent when you pick up the controls. There's Aivar the warrior, the recommended starting class for anyone new to the game. Then there's Katharine the mage and a Paladin whose name must go unmentioned for now. It seems that no matter which character you choose, you always start the game from the same jail cell awaiting pardon for an attempted assassination on the king (which, of course, you didn't actually do). It's RPG bread and butter stuff, with the lowly prisoner suddenly tasked with saving the world.

Source: 1C Entertainment (Image credit: Source: 1C Entertainment)

All character dialogue in the game is voice acted, and it's seemingly the same for all NPCs. That's a big task and I did hear some voices that didn't quite fit the character, at least in my mind. Still, the vast majority of the lines spoken feel natural. I particularly like the voices of Aivar and Katharine; you'll be hearing them a lot.

Five unique abilities come with each character, and you'll find that certain strengths and ideals will allow you to tackle quests in a way the other characters cannot. One very early quest had me attempting to get through an impasse guarded by three golem. Their master, a mage, was nearby but protected by a barrier spell. Because my character wasn't able with magic to disarm the barrier and talk to the golems' master, I had to force my way through by battling them.

Source: 1C Entertainment (Image credit: Source: 1C Entertainment)

Speaking on ideals, there are four of them in the game that level up as you play and make decisions. Order, anarchy, power, and finesse influence the game at all times, and quests will often end up bolstering one of these ideals. Each ideal also has a number of talents associated with it that can be leveled up as your character gains experience. It's essentially the game's tech tree, and it seems like it can be reset if you make a mistake or need to change course partway through the game.

One early side quest I took on had me choosing sides between humans and dwarves, each with their own good argument. It wasn't an easy decision, and I still don't know if I made the right choice. But no matter what, one of my ideals received a bit of attention. Eventually these ideals, if built up enough, will cause the character to become set in their ways so much that they won't be able to act against how they've been acting all game. It's a system that makes your choices matter from the very start, but I hope it doesn't completely cement players into a certain playstyle. People can change!

A mix of third-person exploration and turn-based combat

Source: 1C Entertainment (Image credit: Source: 1C Entertainment)

King's Bounty 2 splits your time between third-person exploration and turn-based, hex-style combat. At times it feels a bit like Skyrim as you run around finding treasure, meeting new characters, and solving basic puzzles, except with a more linear flavor. At other times it feels like Civilization, with your individual squads of units taking turns attacking or defending on a hex grid. No matter which part of the game in which you're currently partaking, the level of detail is high. The gear you find shows up on your character, buildings you explore feel either abandoned and creepy or cozy and lived-in, and the puzzles don't feel out of place or shoehorned in just for the sake of it.

The combat in King's Bounty 2 is a lot deeper than it seems at first glance. You will need to plan carefully to beat tougher enemies.

And once a battle starts, the game moves you to an overhead camera that you can pan, zoom, and rotate for a clear view of the fight no matter what. Battle areas seem to all be carefully crafted, which makes all the ones I saw seem varied enough to remain fresh. You're not just battling on an open field each time. You might be in a snow-covered forest for one fight, with the next one in the ruins of a castle. While the melee attacks are fairly straightforward, the spells you can unleash from your book of magic look fantastic.

With wait, defend, counterattack, zones of control, healing, buffs, and debuffs, there is a significant amount of depth to combat. I tried going head-on with some tougher enemies, ignoring any strategy, and was quickly shown the error of my ways. While your hero can't fight directly from one of the hexes, they can aid the army's units with spells.

Source: 1C Entertainment (Image credit: Source: 1C Entertainment)

These spells can be researched, found, or upgraded, and it seems like all characters can use magic to some extent. As for your army, you can have up to five squads or units on the go at once, with an unlimited number in reserve ready to fight. You start out with hardly anything, of course, but I can see how the variety will have people carefully choosing their five units before each battle once they're further into the game.

In terms of backstory and lore-building, there are tons of notes, plaques, books, and extra lines of dialogue with random NPCs to fill you in. Right from the start the game drops you into the heart of an unfolding story that involves an attempted assassination and a crumbling monarchy. There is the main quest that sort of carries on naturally, but there are also a bunch of random side quests you can find around the world. These generally add something to the lore of the game and also provide you with gear, treasure, and experience.

Despite the two quite different ways the game is delivered — third-person exploration with voiced dialogue and hex-style turn-based combat — everything seems to fit together fairly well. It's a bit more linear than I was expecting, with the game generally presenting a main road with a few branching paths here and there. There are discoverable fast travel locations as well. Just don't go in expecting a true open-world game that lets you try to reach everything you see on screen.

Heading into King's Bounty 2's launch

Source: 1C Entertainment (Image credit: Source: 1C Entertainment)

King's Bounty 2 is expected to launch in about a month. As it stands now the game seems to be in a stable state, with solid sound design and deep video options. I saw no crashes or major bugs, but there is still certainly room for improvement. The game currently lacks the ability to rebind keys, which is always a no-no for PC games. There is also some jank to do with the horse you receive at the start of the game. Mounts are notoriously hard to get right, and 1C still has some way to go on that front.

There might also be some balancing issues to do with the main quest. In my first run through the game as Aivar I completed a bunch of the side quests presented to me, leveling up and receiving better gear. When I went back through with Katharine the mage I focused on the main story only. At one point I reached a battle that is seemingly impossible to win without being at a higher level. An RPG is all about the side quests and story lore so most people likely won't run into this problem, but those who want to run through the storyline only will have some trouble.

I'm overall optimistic about King's Bounty 2. It seems like it wants to keep the game's tradition alive with rich storytelling and a detailed fantasy world. But it's also accommodating to newcomers like me thanks to in-depth tutorials that do a good job of explaining the game's fundamentals. And with so much written and spoken content to do with lore, the world created here is already taking up a spot in my head. King's Bounty 2 is expected to release Aug. 24, 2021, on PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch. Until then, check out a bunch of our picks for best Xbox games and best PC games to help you pass the time.

Cale Hunt

Cale Hunt brings to Windows Central more than eight years of experience writing about laptops, PCs, accessories, games, and beyond. If it runs Windows or in some way complements the hardware, there’s a good chance he knows about it, has written about it, or is already busy testing it.